Former Santa Monica Mayor and current Mayor Pro Tem Richard Bloom traded views with three other local mayors at the Westside Urban Forum on April 18. The theme was “How the Little Guys Get Things Done,” referring to the small size of the participating municipalities: Santa Monica, Beverly Hills, Culver City, and West Hollywood.
Political science professor Fernando Guerra, who moderated, said, “The politics of a city is the politics of development.” And development proved to be the main theme of discussion.
Barry Brucker, mayor of Beverly Hills, talked about recent development in his city, including the Robinson’s-May condo project and several hotel projects. He admitted that the community seemed anxious about change, but at the same time, had given feedback to the Beverly Hills City Council that height concerns are diminished if traffic can be kept under control.
He also noted that Santa Monica has influenced Beverly Hills in regard to smoke-free zones. “We just passed a no-smoking ordinance for outdoor dining,” he said. “We followed the lead of Santa Monica, did our research, and took the plunge.” In spite of trepidation about the ordinance’s effect on tourism, the no-smoking ordinance has generated good feedback.
Culver City Mayor Alan Corlin said his city “is not what it was eight years ago. The change has been remarkable.” He credited the downtown area improvements to Culver City’s willingness to “react and respond to what other cities do.” He made reference to the Entrada Tower, a controversial high-rise project slated to be built near the Howard Hughes Center. “It has been cut down a little bit,” he said of the project, which had caused the Culver City Council to engage in its first-ever filibuster.
Richard Bloom said, “In Santa Monica, we’ve focused inwardly on providing solutions.” But he added, “We can’t really solve problems just by focusing on our city.”
He spoke enthusiastically about the redevelopment of the Santa Monica Civic Center on land bought from the Rand Corporation in 2000. While Bloom initially compared this project to the redevelopment of the Los Angeles downtown area, he noted that there had been a “quintessential Santa Monica process of determining how we would use the property.” Input from community members led to the construction of a new public safety center and parking structure, as well as the building of a 350-unit apartment structure. “It’s something that we’re very proud of.”
Mayor John Duran of West Hollywood spoke of how his city is “geographically challenged” by its small physical area – only 1.9 square miles. Density in West Hollywood “cuts both ways,” because while traffic is a major problem, the small area allows people to walk or bike to many of their destinations.
Moderator Guerra asked each participant to state whether his city favors a policy of less or more density. Bloom had trouble answering this with a simple yes or no. “We’re strategically reorganizing our density,” he said. He then explained that there will be some increase in density in certain areas but that the City is pursuing a policy of “no new increase in car trips.”
One thing all the mayors agreed on was that civic meetings tend to be a long process, often going late into the night. Speaking of the challenges brought by “NIMBYs” to every project in West Hollywood, Duran said that it came to a point where the West Hollywood City Council called for a “time out” because every meeting was full of angry people and every meeting went on “until 3 a.m. in the morning over nothing!” He glanced at Bloom who replied, “Our meetings are never over nothing.”